Thursday, August 30, 2012

Buying Readership

A recent New York Times article described how Todd Rutherford started a company, GettingBookReviews.com (now defunct), to collect money from self-published authors in exchange for generating positive 5-star reviews on Amazon for their books--sometimes hundreds of reviews. And the "reviewers" that he paid to write those reviews usually never read the books. Also, the NYT piece quotes Mr. Bing Liu, a data mining expert, who "estimates that about one-third of all consumer reviews on the Internet are fake."

One self-published author who paid for 300 of those positive reviews is none other than John Locke, who is widely touted as a successful self-published writer and who has published a book on How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! However, nowhere does he say in that book that he bought reviews. Also, part of his payment to GettingBookReviews.com included compensating the reviewers for buying their copies of his books (that they didn't read) on Amazon. So, he was paying people to buy his books!

And you know what? It worked. People were sucked in by all those positive reviews and bought his books. He made a boatload of money.

And I, who stick to the high road, who has never paid for a review or paid someone to purchase my book on-line, haven't.

My mystery novels have received positive reviews from all four of the "big four" established review publications (Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly), none of which I paid for or even asked for. And my books have received positive reviews from ethical independent reviewers such as Kevin Tipple and Lori Caswell, again which I have not paid for.

Locke admits to buying reviews because "Reviews are the smallest piece of being successful, but it's a lot easier to buy them than cultivating an audience."

And cultivating an audience is what I've been working VERY hard at for many, many years. It's enough to make an honest author weep in frustration.

What can YOU do about this scandal? First, if you enjoyed reading a book by your favorite author, write a heartfelt positive review for it and post it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, or wherever YOU go to for on-line customer reviews. Help raise the percentage of real, honest reviews on-line. Second, take on-line customer reviews of books, especially on Amazon, with a sizable grain of salt. Compare them to reviews from professional reviewers. Look at what else those customer reviewers have reviewed and if they've ever given a review for a book that's less than 5-stars.

Educate yourself! Hopefully, a side benefit will be that you won't be taken in by fake rave reviews and you won't waste your money on bad books. There are plenty of good books to go around. I hope you'll include mine in your list:

A Real Basket Case
To Hell in a Handbasket
Deadly Currents
Wicked Eddies


31 comments:

Camille Minichino said...

Thanks for taking this on, Beth. You speak for me and, I'm sure, any author who has struggled to do things the right way.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Excellent post, Beth. Like you, I've always taken the high road on PR/marketing, and the low road to the bank. And, yes, cultivating readers does take a lot of time, but cheap short cuts are eventually discovered and reputations lost. Though I doubt Mr. Locke cares much about his reputation.

Dana Fredsti said...

Well said, Beth, and I agree with you 100 percent. The reviews I got for Plague Town were either solicited by my publisher with review copies (free to the review sites and reviewers) or readers on Amazon/Goodreads. Some were great, others 'meh', but they were all genuine responses to my writing and that makes me feel better than any number of paid reviews could do.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

Great informative post, Beth. I have heard about fake reviews before but what can you do to stop them?? It's so annoying as when you do get a genuine review other people might think it's fake! And the poor writer who took the time to do the review has wasted his/her time...

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks so much for your comments, Camille, Sue Ann, Dana, and Pat! It's a comfort to know that other writers share my frustration, but yes, it's terribly difficult to weed out genuine reader reviews on Amazon from fake ones unless you're willing to do some research and dig deeper.

Jean Henry Mead said...

A very good post, Beth, and I'm in complete agreement. "Skullduggery" is eventually discovered, which often ruins a writer's reputation (which it should).

Kathy Brandt said...

Thanks for your blog Beth. It's unfortunate that we can't necessary believe the reviews that are posted on variou sites and I guess in print as well. Like you, I've never paid for a review. It's unfair to all the authors who do it the right way for people like John Locke to buy his way to the bestseller list. But then I guess life isn't fair :(

Kevin R. Tipple said...

And support those reviewers that you know don't engage in this kind of garbage.


Kevin

marja said...

Great post, Beth, and I agree with you, too. It's a shame a writer would feel the need to pay for a review (or compliment).

Rosemary Harris said...

I was not at all surprised by the article (having long suspected as much)- until I got to the part about John Locke! I don't begrudge anyone his or her success, but dang! Next thing you know, they'll say wrestling is fake.

Cher'ley said...

I had a nice long comment, but I couldn't figute out the letters for the security sign in

MAC said...

Beth, I agree with you 110% I do reviews for authors and do ask for a recipe in return but the recipe is posted along with the review to my site A Book and A Dish. This site is dedicated to bringing books and cooks together. I also post to about 30 other sites as well including Amazon, US & UK, B&N, BAM, etc. But, I won't write a bad review. You rarely find a bad book. You may find one that just doesn't fit your taste and not enjoy what you try to read. When I run across this problem I check with a friend who does guest reviews for me. If it's not to his taste I simply decline to write the review. Just because you don't like a book doesn't mean it's bad. It's just not your kind of book. If I were being paid to write reviews I would feel obligated to write something like the book or not. So, as I said, I agree that paying for a review is bad for all of us.

Eunice Boeve said...

Well, I didn't know that! What a bummer. Maybe that's why my books (althought very good of course) only received modest reviews.I should have shelled out some bucks. :-) And I suppose now, Amazon will be flooded with paid reviews and the system will eventually break down. Actually I think most folks who read our books just aren't comfortable writing a review, even if they absolutely loved the thing. We writers tend to forget that.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Jean, Kathy, Kevin (a great, honest reviewer BTW), Marja, Rosemary, Cher'ley, MAC (another great reviewer BTW), and Eunice!

Rosemary, thanks for my guffaw of the day!

Cher'ley, I'm sorry the robo-checker ate your comment! I hate those things myself, and have had some of my comments eaten on other blogs.

Margi Desmond said...

Excellent post, Beth! Paying for good reviews is cheating. Period.

Marilyn Levinson said...

Great post, Beth. Very disheartening to know that paid-for reviews have led to best sellers. You're right to suggest we post reviews when we enjoy reading another writer's books.

Cindy Keen Reynders said...

Yes, great post. I'm with you, Beth. I don't pay for reviews. I would love to pen a bestseller, but I won't sell my soul to do it.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks Margi, Marilyn, and Cindy for your comments. I'm glad to know there are others like me, whose integrity and soul are not for sale!

Jackie Houchin said...

Locke's actions sounded outrageous at first, but I'm not against an author "paying" a reviewer to give some honest critique on his book - aren't ARCs and books actually "payments" of sorts? But for the so called reviewers to write fluff and NEVER read the book is what I call bad. I'm a reviewer on my own website and also occasionally for Mystery Scene Magazine. I do not write reviews unless I've read the book --- the entire book. (Although I must admit, I've written a blurb after carefully reading a 13 page synopsis.)

Leigh said...

very interesting Beth - I guess I'm too honest or naive to have ever thought of being able to buy fake reviews (or fake Twitter followers as was in the news last week..) - I'm always suspicious when I see a book or product or software ap with only one 5-star review, but I never imagined that something with hundreds or thousands of reviews might just have a high percentage of "bought" reviews. Thanks for the post - by the way, I just bought my first Bethbook (I think it was Deadly Currants, murder by jam or something) and will give it a good review. Chocolate chip cookies accepted.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Great post, Beth. Like you, I work my butt off to reach readers through honest connections.

Sara Hoklotubbe said...

Well said, Beth. Thanks for the post.

cncbooks said...

This ranks up there with the occasional author who buys huge numbers of their own book to manipulate the bestseller lists. I don't think that happens as much these days as it did 10 years ago but it does show that snookering the potential reader is nothing new. These paid reviews are, though, causing more widespread damage to honest authors and reviewers.

I can't agree that "you rarely find a bad book"---with every wannabe writer putting a book out there, bad books are everywhere. This is why I decided that I WILL write a less-than-4-star review when it's warranted. I won't write a slasher but I will talk about horrible grammar and spelling, poor ebook production, plot inconsistencies, cardboard characters, obvious lack of any editing, etc., while also trying to point out any good things I can. In my view, the only way I can be honest in my reviewing is to tell both the wonderful and the awful. Just refusing to review a bad book doesn't help potential readers.

In the interest of fair play, I have to say I am paid a very small stipend for some reviews, by Publishers Weekly, but not for any reviews I post on my blog, Goodreads, B&N, and various groups and lists.

Lelia Taylor

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Jackie, Leigh, Kathleen, Sara, and Leila!

Jackie, while I think it's okay to give a reviewer a book or ARC, so they can read it and write a review, I DO NOT think it's okay to "stack the deck" with 300 fake reader reviews on Amazon to dupe innocent consumers into thinking it's a popular book and they should buy it.

Leigh, thanks so much for buying DEADLY CURRENTS! I hope it hooks you on the series enough that you'll move on to the second book, WICKED EDDIES. :)

Lelia, I have no qualms about a professional reviewer being paid for their work by a review publication, as long as you are free to write your honest opinion. What I don't agree with is an author or publisher paying reviewers directly to write only positive reviews, whether they've read the book or not or liked the book or not.

Ron Scheer said...

Well put. I covered this subject earlier this week on my blog:

http://buddiesinthesaddle.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-best-reviews-money-can-buy.html

I don't think there's any system that can't be gamed if it's to someone's benefit. I'd suggest writing fan letters to writers whose books you've enjoyed; they're probably worth more to the writer in the long run than a glowing review somewhere that most people now will suspect is bogus.

Kim McMahill said...

Thanks for bringing this issue to everyone's attention. I hope word get's out that quantity is not necessarily quality.

Gail M Baugniet - Author said...

Our SinC/Hawaii group will discuss "How To Write a Book Review" at our next meeting and the importance of supporting authors with honest reviews. Your post will be part of the discussion. Thank you, Beth.

Beth Groundwater said...

Thanks for your comments, Ron, Kim, and Gail. Gail, I would be honored if you mention this post in your SinC discussion of how to write book reviews. I suggest that all of your members make a pledge at the meeting to write 5 reviews for 5 books they loved and to post them wherever they go to read reviews on-line.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

But, if you are going to do Beth;s suggestion, please make them real quality reviews. Not the two or three sentence variety, but actual real reviews of substance and merit.

And if you come across a real review of substance and merit at Amazon or elsewhere, even if you disagreed with it, please hit the like/helpful button and support the review and the reviewer. Give weight to reviews of depth and the others will fall by the wayside.

Barry Knister said...

The problem you describe should lead readers to dismiss reviews almost entirely,especially in relation to Amazon. Anyone who knows something about writing should be able to look at the first page, or at the "look inside" feature on Amazon,and quickly know whether a book has merit.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

"Anyone who knows something about writing should be able to look at the first page, or at the "look inside" feature on Amazon,and quickly know whether a book has merit."

Totally disagree. What I see a lot are books that have the first 1 to 3 chapters very polished because they were the ones used to enter a contest, seek an agent, etc. Once one gets beyond that point, one can often discover a train wreck.